This information is for adults who get migraines. It tells you about paracetamol, a treatment used for migraines.
We haven't looked at the research on this treatment in as much detail as we've looked at the research on most of the treatments we cover. But we wanted to include some information, as you may be interested in it.
Paracetamol is an over-the-counter pain reliever that people often take for headaches and other aches and pains. For migraine, many people take it combined with with aspirin and caffeine in a treatment called Anadin Extra (to learn more, see Aspirin.). Here, we look at taking paracetamol on its own.
A summary of 10 studies found that a 1,000 milligram (mg) dose of paracetamol can help relieve migraine pain and other migraine symptoms, such as nausea and being extra-senstive to sound and light. However, it doesn't help everyone. The summary found that within two hours:
1 in 5 people taking paracetamol had no pain, compared with only 1 in 10 people taking a dummy treatment (a placebo).
1 in 2 people taking paracetamol had no worse than mild pain, compared with around 1 in 3 people taking a placebo.
Paracetamol is a widely used painkiller, and it's safe when taken at the recommended amounts. However, if you take more than the recommended dose, paracetamol can kill the cells in your liver, leading to liver failure. If you drink alcohol heavily, you shouldn't take paracetamol without discussing it with your doctor. You shouldn't take paracetamol if you already have liver damage.
Unlike ibuprofen and aspirin, paracetamol does not irritate the stomach.
You need to be careful not to take paracetamol and other painkillers too regularly. Taking paracetamol more than two or three times a week can cause more headaches. Your body gets used to the drug, and you have a headache when you stop taking it.
A placebo is a 'pretend' or dummy treatment that contains no active substances. A placebo is often given to half the people taking part in medical research trials, for comparison with the 'real' treatment. It is made to look and taste identical to the drug treatment being tested, so that people in the studies do not know if they are getting the placebo or the 'real' treatment. Researchers often talk about the 'placebo effect'. This is where patients feel better after having a placebo treatment because they expect to feel better. Tests may indicate that they actually are better. In the same way, people can also get side effects after having a placebo treatment. Drug treatments can also have a 'placebo effect'. This is why, to get a true picture of how well a drug works, it is important to compare it against a placebo treatment.
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